Tag Archives: Humbug

Humbugs and Hullabaloo

11 Jul

Humbug. It implies that something is fraudulent. Its best known usage is by Ebenezer Scrooge, of course. “Bah! Humbug!”, he proclaimed, venting his opinion of the festive season in Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. And how misjudged and maligned his prescience has proved to be. Look at what’s become of our ancient Yuletide festival, hijacked by commerce and Christianity. All that fake bonhomie, “good will to all men!”, until January, anyway… Humbug indeed. It’s an old word for a modern malaise. Our political and big business masters pretend to have ordinary people’s interests at heart. It’s given new meaning to the terms electoral and corporate fraud.

By the by, I’ve never really got Dickens. ‘A Christmas Carol’ is the only one of his works that I’ve managed to finish reading. Most of my favourite writers are admirers, so I concede that I must be missing something. Big characters, ripping yarns, concern with social justice… those novels ought to be right up my street.

Wikipedia comes up with several competing sources for the origin of the word, Old Norse, Irish and Italian among them. And it has another meaning in English, denoting the traditional English peppermint-flavoured sweet… Apparently, there’s no connection between the two words.

“Mint humbugs” by Ka Faraq Gatri

So why this etymological enquiry? As I swept the hearth today, I came upon a little guest, who’d presumably come down via the chimney. And he provided me with an answer. I can reveal the origin of this meaning of the word, at least. None of the usual Internet sources will tell you. It’s the first one of its kind that I’ve seen. The Internet couldn’t even tell me what species it belongs to (so much for my entomological enquiries). So all answers will be gratefully received…

Yes, it’s a terrible photo, I know. He wouldn’t keep still, being keen to scuttle on his way. But the evidence, I suggest, is irrefutable.

This morning's visitor

This morning’s visitor

Yep, the same colours, the same shape… And like all larger beetles, I’ll warrant that he hums when he flies. It’s a barred humbug, for sure. That’s the colloquial name for the creature, no doubt, somewhere here in England.

I’m a big beetles fan and from time to time, they turn up in my writing. I’ll leave you with this.

His head was full of creatures. He could no longer see out of his right eye. Some kind of grub had woven the lashes of the upper and lower lids together and made itself a cocoon. His ears served as nests for hordes of shiny black beetles.  A caterpillar and a centipede had occupied his right and left nostrils respectively. His mouth hung permanently open and had become home to any number of creepy-crawlies. And most recently, a small brown bird had made a nest in his left armpit and laid six eggs there. The bird chirped a happy little song that cheered him up no end. So it seemed that he was a nature boy after all. Lawrence and Hardy, those comic colossi had claimed him for their own. It was another fine mess they’d gotten him into.

All text and images © PSR 2015 except ‘Mint humbugs’ © Ka Faraq Gatri – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

p.s., Life imitates art. For days I heard strange noises in my ear. And then this emerged… Ah, the origin of the word, earwig, but that’s a whole other story.

Another uninvited guest

Another uninvited guest